Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ask Dr Judy: The Essential Neuroscience of Learning

We heard from Dr. Judy Willis, a neurologist turned classroom teacher, via video at our first How Kids Learn conference. Dr. Willis was also interviewed in a two-part blog and agreed to a videotaped interview for an upcoming DVD on the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) principles. You can hear Dr. Willis in an upcoming, free webinar entitled "Ask Dr. Judy: The Essential Neuroscience of Learning" on December 11, 2012 from 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM EST. You can register by clicking here.

Below, Dr. Willis joins us as a guest blogger. 

Greetings Neuro-Igniters,

Dr. Judy Willis
I think I have met more of you in the past year than ever before through my presentations and workshops in 25 states and 10 countries in the past 12 months—or "remotely" through television, radio, and online interviews. 

Unfortunately, I will be unable to attend the How Kids Learn II conference due to prior commitments. However, I was able to contribute to an LIAS webinar and an upcoming video promoting the LIAS principles. I am impressed at your interest and your desire to build your knowledge base of the neuroscience of learning. You'll find a list of places where I'll be giving presentations at conferences and workshops at schools on my website. If you are able to attend one of these, please come by and say "hello"!

It seems that we all share the common challenge of TOO MUCH information students are required to memorize and not enough time to be creative and offer the authentic, project-based, inquiry and discovery learning experiences that are so critical if students are to develop their executive functions. 

Executive functions is the neurological term for the highest levels of cognition designed for decision-making and goal achievement. These include judgment, critical analysis, prioritization, deduction, risk assessment, and transfer of knowledge to novel, innovative applications. In the United States, the Common Core Standards call for students to use these very executive functions that have been described by neurology for over 75 years as emblematic of prefrontal cortex neural processing.

As these neural networks undergo their greatest rate of change (maturation with pruning of unused networks and myelination to strengthen the most used networks) during the school years, educators are the caretakers of the development of our students' highest cognitive and emotional neural networks. Not only are these executive functions those delineated in the Common Core Standards, but they are also the qualities now sought by employers in response to globalization of communication, accelerated information dissemination, and technological breakthroughs.

The success of educators to help all children develop these critical 21st century skill sets will increasingly benefit from the continuing acceleration in the quality and quantity of neuroscience research relevant to how the brain learns best. It will be up to educators to "translate" the implications of the research into strategies for planning and teaching.

As I see your efforts to acquire the background knowledge in neuroscience to take on this task of developing applications of this research, I am confident that you will succeed. I look forward to the impact you will have as you continue to learn and collaborate to insure that students are engaged with meaningful, memorable learning experiences that their brains will construct into long-term, concept memory circuits.

Your students will be prepared with the transferable wisdom they will need to solve new problems that have yet to be revealed and expand on new information as they seize the opportunities for creative innovation in their 21st century.

Keep igniting.
Dr. Judy Willis, a board-certified neurologist in Santa Barbara, California, has combined her 15 years as a practicing adult and child neurologist with her teacher education training and years of classroom experience. After five years teaching at Santa Barbara Middle School, and ten years of classroom teaching all together, this year Dr. Willis reluctantly left teaching middle school students and dedicated herself full-time to teaching educators. With an adjunct faculty position at the University of California, Santa Barbara graduate school of education, Dr. Willis travels nationally and internationally giving presentations, workshops, and consulting while continuing to write books for parents and educators.

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